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3D Report: 3D was never dead. It was just forgotten. (A visit with Bob Furmanek) (1 Viewer)

Ronald Epstein

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3D was never dead. It was just forgotten.


I was not old enough to live through the heyday of 3D during the 1950s. I don’t think up until recently, I ever had the opportunity to watch a film in the 3D format other than sampling some amateur showing that involved the use of cardboard anaglyph glasses.

Yet, today, I have become one of the strongest proponents for the advancement of the new 3D format. How did this happen? I was one of the first in a group back in 2007 to see an early prototype 3D display at Panasonic. After sampling some demo material, I had complete faith that this technology would be responsible for a complete resurgence of 3D both theatrically and in the home.

For the most part, 3D has become hugely successful. Over recent years, Hollywood has ramped up their efforts to either shoot films natively in 3D or take their 2D material and upconvert it in post-production. Theatrical releases translate into home video releases, and as such, today consumers have a sizeable assortment of 3D Blu-ray titles that they can enjoy on their displays.

The biggest problem I find with today’s 3D technology is that it isn’t used to potential. Studios are finding it cheaper to upconvert 2D films into 3D. The results are generally not great. These films have problems with varying degrees of depth, and there is absolutely nothing projected towards the audience. Filmmakers that film natively in 3D, carefully choreograph their shots to maximize depth perception, but often play it too safe by not throwing in enough “gimmicks” that make the film a more immersive, fun experience.

How many of us remember our visits to Disney World, watching 3D exhibitions with Michael Jackson or The Muppets, where objects projected out of the screen, coming inches before our face. These are the 3D experiences that bring the fondest memories, yet they are sadly missing from theatrical movies of today.

If you are wondering where all this is leading up to, please read on….



Meeting Bob Furmanek


This past weekend I had the opportunity to spend the afternoon with Bob Furmanek, President of the 3-D Film archive, an organization that saves and restores lost 3D materials. Our afternoon together was a complete “eye-opener” for someone like myself who not only had little knowledge of classic 3D, but was under the misconception that the format actually first appeared during the 1950s.

What I had learned was that the first 3D presentation to an audience happened in 1915 with feature films making their appearance as early as 1922.

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One of the first demos that Mr. Furmanek showed me, was a 3D short entitled, Thrills For You that was shot with a Polaroid system in 1939 and presented at the Pennsylvania Railroad exhibit during the Golden Gate Exposition in 1940. The short had been restored from its original 35mm print and transferred to Blu-ray disc. Watching this short -- which was essentially a promotional film for the Pennsylvania Railroad – I was quite pleased with the amount of depth that was present. In fact, I was actually amazed that I was watching 3D from the 1930s that clearly, by that time, already had been refined.

I was then taken back even earlier, as I was shown a clip of Lumiere’s L’Ariveé d’un Train, which was shot in 1934. Those of you familiar with film history, know this famous film was originally shot in 1895. It was then re-shot with a stereoscopic film camera 39 years later. Though the footage I watched was rather crude, it was still quite amazing to see that indeed, the perception of depth was present.

Our look at earlier 3D efforts was capped off with a viewing of Motor Rhythm, the first full-color 3D film which made its premier at the World’s Fair in 1940. This animated short, beautifully restored, is a rather fun look at the building of an automobile complete with parts that move in and out of the screen.

As we moved on to the material of the 1950s, my heart began to race. We were about to enter the heyday of 3D cinema when the format was fully realized and being used to its full potential. This was the age of “gimmickry” and films spared no expense to exploit it.

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We began with a 1954 B&W Pinky Lee short called Hawaiian Nights. This unknown short was discovered while Mr. Furmanek was doing research at Universal in 1990. At the time of this short, Pinky was already a television star with his own primetime variety show on NBC. Hawaiian Nights was a great showcase for the comedian and for the 3D format itself, which featured some of the most effective 3D pop-out effects that I had seen all afternoon. As a cast of beauty pageant girls danced, their waving arms extended outwards, inches away from me. I experienced the same level of satisfaction when Hawaiian Natives lunged spears that protruded from the screen almost seemingly striking my body. Of course, the effects would have been minimalized if not for the exceptional restoration work that has been done on this short by the 3-D film archive. Despite its excellent use of the stereoscopic system, it was never shown in 3D due to public apathy towards the process when released in early 1954.

Though 3D received its share of bad press when people complained about headaches while viewing it, truth be, the Polaroid Corporation conducted field tests in the fall of 1953 and discovered that 50% of all 3D presentations were either out of sync our out of phase. The sync control units they introduced solved those problems, but by then it was too late. People had been burnt and weren’t going back. 3D glasses had become box-office poison. It was at the same time that Zanuck and Fox were introducing The Robe in Cinemascope, a process promoted as “the Modern Miracle you see without glasses.

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Next up, were samplings of popular (and not so) 50s Sci-Fi classics, It Came From Outer Space and Robot Monster. Both looked quite good with the amount of added depth the format provides. Explosive effects usually contained debris that effectively hurdled themselves towards the camera.

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Next, we watched trailers from 3D feature films that included 1953’s The Maze and Miss Sadie Thompson. I also had the opportunity to view introductory shorts (in 3D) that preceded features Robot Monster(1953) and Bwana Devil(1952). The previously lost 3-D short Stardust in Your Eyes (1953) features a song and comedy routine by Slick Slaven, who demonstrates how your favorite stars are going to appear in the new 3-D movies..

Moving forward, we sampled a clip from a 1961 Warner Bros. feature entitled, The Mask, originally only seen in anaglyph, which was an attempt to revitalize the 3D craze. Unfortunately, I think the film was a bit over-the-top with its hallucinations of demons and ghostly spirits for audiences to really attach themselves to it. Still, an interesting watch and the 3D was quite convincing.

The final clip of the evening was a major 3D feature from 1953, lavishly produced in Technicolor, which made the 3D effects even more soothing to the eyes. I don’t want to mention the particular feature publicly at the moment, but I did want to point out that as I watched this beautiful color production, I could only imagine how much better it would look on Blu-ray.



The Startling Discovery


I now completely understand why there are so many members of Home Theater Forum begging for the studios to dig deep into their libraries and release feature films from the 1950s.

This was the pinnacle era of 3D. These are films that rival, and in some cases, surpass the 3D features we see today. This was a time when nobody played it safe with the format.

This is the 3D I had been longing for!

The amazing thing is, I haven’t even scratched the surface with these films from the golden age of 3D cinema. These samplings that I experienced through Mr. Furmanek has only whet my appetite for films like Creature From The Black Lagoon, It Came From Outer Space, House of Wax and Man in The Dark (to name just a few).

I think a lot of what Hollywood is calling 3D these days, is in many ways, mediocre. I can clearly see there is a growing need for the studios to reach into the vaults and make these classic features available.

Additionally, there is a wealth of rare 3D finds that Robert Furmanek and the 3-D Film Archive have been actively restoring in hopes of finding a means of distribution to the public. Instead of collectors having to seek out bad bootlegs of these rarities, it is Mr. Furmanek’s hope that newly restored copies could find their way into the hands of those that would appreciate them the most.

Having the opportunity to view before/after clips showcasing the Archive’s unique restoration techniques, I was quite pleased to see that they were able to take mis-aligned, shrunken and faded 3D elements and beautifully restore the 3D image. In some cases where problems existed with the camera rig, they were able to fine-tune and make the 3D image flawless. I was confident that with their techniques, any vintage stereoscopic image could look its very best.

Until these features and shorts are released, the public really hasn’t experienced the best this format has to offer.
 

Steve Tannehill

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I've seen House of Wax and Dial M for Murder in 3D, and I hope that they will be released soon on blu-ray 3D. House of Wax has a couple of startling 3D effects, and The Paddle-Ball Guy. Dial M For Murder has one of the most painful homicides I've ever seen, but plays out like a stage play...the sets have depth, but apart from one scene, nothing reaches out and grabs you.
I hope that Mr. Furmanek's work will join some of the other classic 3D fare on blu-ray.
 

Charles Smith

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Damn. Been out all evening and have a few things that need doing before I can come back and read all of this in detail. It looks fantastic.

(There's no way to mark things unread on here, is there?)
 

Brian McP

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I hope one day the 3D version of "Robot Monster" comes out on bluray -- I have the 3D version available on vhs and is more headache inducing than the movie itself. A guilty pleasure for me and a few others, hopefully the rights holders find a pin-sharp print to use and see Ro-Man in all his, er, glory.
 

Charles Smith

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(Okay, caught up now.)


"I now completely understand why there are so many members of Home Theater Forum begging for the studios to dig deep into their libraries and release feature films from the 1950s.



This was the pinnacle era of 3D. These are films that rival, and in some cases, surpass the 3D features we see today. This was a time when nobody played it safe with the format.



This is the 3D I had been longing for!"

Music to my ears. Great article, and I look forward to more. Most of all, I look forward to the eventual appearance of these beautiful classics in all their 3D-BD glory.
 

Bob Furmanek

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Ron, thank you very much for the nice article. It was great meeting you and I'm glad that you had a good time.
From day one back in 1980 when I first started thinking of the need for a 3-D Film Archive, my intent was always for this material to be seen and enjoyed. It does nobody any good sitting locked up in a storage vault. My goal is to have everything you saw (and much more that you didn't) on 3-D Blu-ray by the end of 2013. We're working hard on that and with a little bit of luck, we'll reach our goal.
Brian McP said:
I hope one day the 3D version of "Robot Monster" comes out on bluray -- I have the 3D version available on vhs and is more headache inducing than the movie itself. A guilty pleasure for me and a few others, hopefully the rights holders find a pin-sharp print to use and see Ro-Man in all his, er, glory.
Don't judge the 3-D quality of this film by that horrible Rhino release.The red/blue anaglyph of ROBOT MONSTER was made in the 1980's from incomplete elements and that's why sections of the film go flat. Other than the LOST CONTINENT/ONE MILLION B.C. footage, everything is stereoscopic in the original film.
They also did a terrible job of aligning the left/right materials. When projecting the original 1953 prints, the registration is very consistent.
You'll be seeing something very soon that will open your eyes to the true 3-D qualities of Ro-man...
 

Peter Apruzzese

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Bob Furmanek said:
From day one back in 1980 when I first started thinking of the need for a 3-D Film Archive, my intent was always for this material to be seen and enjoyed. It does nobody any good sitting locked up in a storage vault.
A commendable goal. We all know too many collectors who merely hoard their prints, literally for years, without ever screening them. Or when screening them, it's to a limited audience.
Bob provided 4 of the 10 features as well as the majority of the shorts that I ran in 3-D back in 2004 at the Lafayette (as well as the complete shorts program in 2005) and the audiences we had were lucky to be able to see them as it's unlikely some of them will ever screen again in a theatre.
 

Charles Smith

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Peter Apruzzese said:
audiences we had were lucky to be able to see them as it's unlikely some of them will ever screen again in a theatre.
Quit harshing our mellow!
 

Stephen_J_H

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My hope is that when Bob & Co. at the 3D Film Archive get their material released, all of us will show our support for his efforts by getting out and buying the titles and seeing screenings. Money talks, and if the studios see that there is a market for quality presentations of classic 3D films, they might consider releasing their classic 3D as well.
 

Bob Furmanek

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Thank you very much, Pete. Of all the venues where I've seen dual-strip 3-D over the past 30 years, the Lafayette and David Packard's Stanford theater were my favorites. True movie palaces with the right ambience, presentation and showmanship to really make these films come to life.

Stanford Theater, Palo Alto, CA
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Lafayette Theater, Suffern, NY
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And thank YOU Stephen. I'll be sure to post updates on our distribution progress. We're negotiating now and I hope to have some very good news in the near future.
Bob
 

3DMOVIEMAN

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There are so many classic 3D films that need a proper Blu ray release. Sony already has the 3D version of "The Mad Magician" up in the PS3 store, that would be an awesome 3D Blu ray! Robot Monster & Cat Women of the Moon would make an amazing 3D double feature ;) Is there something we can do to make it known we are very interested in these classic titles on 3D Blu ray?
 

Bob Furmanek

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We've tried. Unfortunately, the current owner of ROBOT and CAT WOMEN has zero interest in a 3-D restoration or a Blu-ray release.
 

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Very informative article. Thank you!
I have to admit that I have seen several newer 3D films, but have not see any classic ones to date.
 

Todd J Moore

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I will repeat my earlier statements that ANY 3-D movie from the 1950s that gets released on a 3D Blu Ray--and certainly any that Bob releases--will get a purchase from me on the day it comes out. Yes, even a complete turkey like THE NEBRASKAN will be happily added to my 3D Blu Ray collection. I would even contemplate getting a PS3 to get THE MAD MAGICIAN if Sony would just release the rest of their classic 3D titles on the PS3 if they didn't want to go the 3D Blu route. Unfortunately, i do not have the disposable income to buy a device for just one movie. :(
 

Richard--W

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Money burns a hole in my pocket for vintage 3-D films on Blu-ray.
I will buy any and every 3-D release that 3-D Film Archive puts out the day it comes out.
The quality of their work speaks for itself.
Likewise, I will buy any and every vintage 3-D film from the 1950s the day the studios put them out.
But don't wait too long.
With each passing year, American consumers have less money to spend, not more.
The notion to wait until more homes are equipped is just silly and counter-productive.
Issue the 3-D Blu-rays now and more homes will equip pretty fast, but there's enough 3-D hardware out there already.
Get on with it.
 

Robert Harris

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Not certain how well this will hold up compressed, but worth a try. I believe I've posted previously, but worth a shot.

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Richard--W

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That might be a fascinating chart, but it's too compressed and too small to read.
Can it be enlarged, moderator?
Todd J Moore said:
.... Yes, even a complete turkey like THE NEBRASKAN will be happily added to my 3D Blu Ray collection. ... :(
How can a talkie that's in Technicolor and in 3-D and a western be a complete turkey?
It has scenery, Jay Silverheels, Lee Van Cleef and everything.
Really, Todd.
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Charles Smith

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Right-click and save the chart to your hard drive, then zoom in on it in whatever image software you've got. It's not great, but it is just sharp enough to read, enlarged that way. What would be really great is printing it across a few sheets of paper, that it might be more easily pondered and enjoyed.
 

Bob Furmanek

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Admittedly, THE NEBRASKAN is very much a programmer, but an entertaining one, in my humble opinion. Without sounding too biased, I have to say the 3-D and 1.85 widescreen does add a LOT to its entertainment value. Plus, Roberta Haynes is quite stunning in the miracle of third-dimension.
http://www.hometheaterforum.com/image/id/865707/width/407/height/500
Even JESSE JAMES VS. THE DALTONS becomes a more enjoyable movie in 3-D!
 

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